ST PETERSBURG,. Fla. - Team Penske opened the 2009 IndyCar Series season in style Sunday. Ryan Briscoe captured the lead with 13 laps remaining and went on to win the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, scoring his fourth overall victory in the last 14 races for Team Penske.
Briscoe passed Justin Wilson for the lead on the 87th lap of the 100-lap race, then held off Ryan Hunter-Reay on two dramatic restarts in the final seven laps to claim what, in effect, is his second consecutive victory and second in a row on a street course. He won last year's season finale, a non-points race in his home country at Surfers Paradise, Australia.
"This is a lot like Milwaukee last year," Briscoe said, referring to the trouble he had at that track before posting Roger Penske's 300th career victory last summer. "We've led laps here and had been in position to win, but we'd never gotten the job done. I saw an opportunity and went for the win."
Will Power finished sixth in his debut driving the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda in place of Helio Castroneves. Power started sixth and finished sixth after enduring some trials on pit lane early and contact on track late in the race.
"I think we were on par to have a pretty good strategy today, but just as we pulled in for our first pit stop we had some bad luck with that yellow," said Power. "Plus, I sort of made it hard on our guys by pulling into the wrong pit, but I hung in there and made sure I stayed out of trouble and kept progressing throughout the day. I think considering everything that happened out there, bringing the Team Penske car home in sixth is great."
After Briscoe's final drive to the front, he never relinquished the lead, getting his third official IndyCar Series win and fourth overall (counting the Australia exhibition) since the Milwaukee breakout victory last year. Hunter-Reay finished just .4619 of a second behind in second place while Wilson was third.
"The main objective was to get the car to the finish line, so I wasn‘t going to do anything desperate at the end," Briscoe said. "I knew there were important points to be scored."
The victory also marked Team Penske's 30th win in IndyCar Series competition.
"It is a great feeling to get the win," Briscoe added.
Briscoe will take the points lead into another street race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, on April 19.
"It's great to start the season the same way we ended last year," said Tim Cindric, President of Penske Racing. " Ryan ran a great race and we had great pit stops. It was good to see Will fight his way back to sixth. We look forward to coming back to Long Beach in a couple of weeks for the first time since Helio won there in 2001."